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Britannia Bridge Blaze, 23 May 1970

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James Roberts James Roberts | 11:27 UK time, Friday, 21 May 2010

This Sunday marks the 40th anniversary of an inferno that destroyed one of Wales' most historic landmarks, and at the same time left Anglesey all but cut off from the rest of Wales.

Until the fateful night of the 23 May 1970, Robert Stephenson's Britannia Bridge had stood solid, spanning the perilous Menai Straits with its innovative tubular steel construction for some 120 years. Sitting alongside Thomas Telford's pioneering Menai Suspension Bridge, Stephenson's tubular steel construction carried the rail link to Anglesey. It was a vital economic and social lifeline.

Britannia Bridge, Menai Straits Photograph of Britannia Bridge, Menai Straits, taken from Church Island by Ian Yule.

That was until a few local children unintentionally started a fire that spread throughout the structure and required firefighters from far and wide to tackle the spectacular blaze. As the flames died down and daylight broke it soon became clear Stephenson's rail artery to the island was a melted and charred helix of tar and metal.

This video from the BBC Wales archive is part of a programme from 1978, some eight years after the blaze, called Let's Look at Wales: Crossing the Menai.

Narrated by David Parry Jones, and aimed at a school's audience, the clip shows the blaze and the aftermath. Featuring BBC News footage from the night of the fire, and beginning with a dramatised 999 response, it offers an interesting view of the events on that May night.

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During the following decade the bridge was repaired and improved. Rail services resumed from 1972 onwards and by 1980 a road deck was added to what is now the double decker bridge taking traffic along the A55 into and out of Anglesey.

Further reading:

Radio Wales community correspondent Gwenda Parry speaks to people who remember the Britannia Bridge fire (2006).
Anglesey History: Menai Strait Bridges


  • Comment number 1.

    as i am a bangor i girl who was overseas when this happened i have found the film very interesting if a little quaint,but what a pitty they didnt replace it with a proper dual carriage way bridge,thus avoiding the chaos we have there today especially in the summer.


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